Recent Idaho accidents make a case for motorcycle safety

Wrecks show the need for caution; rider error - and the lack of a helmet - often can be fatal.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comSeptember 26, 2013 

A crash on Warm Springs Avenue Saturday caused the death of one man whose motorcycle left the road. Crews attended to another man on the scene of the crash.

PETE ZIMOWSKY

Boise resident Dominic Antonnacchi, 33, died early last week when his motorcycle struck a car near Franklin Road and Main Street in Meridian.

On Sunday, Joey Stills, a 33-year-old from Caldwell, was killed when his motorcycle struck a dog that ran in front of him near Goodson Road and Elmcrest Drive near Middleton.

A few days earlier, Bradley Lisonbee, 33, of Murtaugh, died from injuries suffered in a similar wreck involving a dog south of Kimberly.

Charlie Brown, 55, of Boise, was seriously injured Sept. 11 when his motorcycle ran head-on into a pickup while passing in a construction zone on Idaho 44 near Linder Road.

Those crashes and several others involving motorcycles this month caught the attention of Steve Frey, a Boise motorcyclist who promotes safe-riding techniques.

"A lot of these accidents — 99 percent of them — are preventable," Frey said. "No one wants to die. No one wants to be in an accident."

Frey, 66, first began riding a motorcycle when he was 14. Today's cycles are much more powerful and responsive than the ones he started with.

That's good from the standpoint of technology and performance. But it can also spell trouble for novice riders and those who don't understand or respect the power motorcycles can unleash.

"It's too easy to get on a motorcycle without the proper preparation," Frey said.

FATALITIES COMMON

Over the past five years, 114 motorcyclists have died in crashes in Idaho, according to statistics from the Idaho Transportation Department. That's down from 140 between 2003 and 2007. Another 870 riders suffered serious injuries from 2008 to 2012.

Of the 2,811 overall motorcycle crashes the past five years, 87 percent of the riders suffered some sort of injury.

Nearly half of those crashes — 48 percent — involved the motorcycle alone. Fifty-two percent of the fatalities were motorcycle-only crashes.

A large percentage of motorcycle crashes involve errors in cornering or braking, said Stacey "Ax" Axmaker, director of the Idaho STAR (Skills Training Advantage for Riders) program.

"Judgment is so important on a motorcycle," Axmaker said.

The STAR group formed in 1996, after the state of Idaho required motorcyclists to get an endorsement on their driver's license. The organization began offering classes that allowed riders to pass the state's written and riding tests.

Riders younger than 21 are required to successfully complete an approved motorcycle rider training course, in addition to a written knowledge test. The Idaho Transportation Department also recommends the riding course for older riders preparing for their first motorcycle license.

STAR conducts a series of eight classes to help motorcyclists from novice to expert improve their riding and emergency handling skills. The group also educates other motorists to be more vigilant in seeing motorcyclists on the road.

"We tell people in cars, in trucks and on motorcycles to concentrate on the task at hand," he said. "We want everyone to get home to their loved ones."

OLDER RIDERS AND WRECKS

Rider error — which includes cornering and braking issues - was listed as the cause of 70 percent of fatalities over the past four years, according to STAR data. In 42 percent of the incidents, the motorcyclist ran off the road on a corner.

Just 20 percent of those fatalities were caused by a motorist violating a motorcyclist's right-of-way.

The public might believe that young riders in their 20s — thought to be more daring and reckless — are most likely to be killed on a motorcycle.

That isn't true.

Seventy-three percent of the people killed on a motorcycle last year were older than 40. Riders 45 to 54 were involved in more accidents over the past five years than those in any other age group, according to ITD figures.

Many of those folks might start riding for the first time — or return to riding — after raising their children, Axmaker said. And as a group, they might have more time for riding than younger motorcyclists, he said.

"But they may not have driven since 1982," Axmaker said. "It's easy to think your skills are the same, but they aren't."

He noted that 73 percent of the motorcycle fatalities over the past four years involved cruisers or touring bikes, motorcycles typically associated with older riders.

One of the statistics that most troubles Axmaker is that 35 percent of the motorcyclists killed in Idaho over the past five years were impaired by alcohol or drugs. He said that percentage has been fairly consistent over the years.

"Riding a motorcycle is fine. Drinking is fine. But they should not be done at the same time," Axmaker said.

STAR also recommends that motorcyclists wear all protective gear - for head, body, arms, hands, legs and feet - that can prevent or reduce injuries.

"It's not cool to be riding in shorts and flip-flops," Frey said.

HELMETS NOT MANDATORY FOR MOST IDAHO RIDERS

Twenty states and the District of Columbia require all motorcyclists to wear helmets. Idaho requires helmets only for riders 17 or younger.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that the lives of 1,829 motorcyclists were saved in 2008 by helmets, the most recent year available. An additional 823 lives could have been saved if all motorcyclists had worn helmets, the administration estimates.

Of the 101 motorcyclists killed over the past three years in Idaho, only 42 percent were wearing helmets, STAR reported.

None of the four men killed or injured in the recent Idaho wrecks was wearing a helmet.

"I'm not going to tell someone they have to wear a helmet," Frey said. "I'm just going to look at them incredulously."

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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